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Yes, It’s Officially Time To Wonder Where Things Are Heading In Ann Arbor

Can Michigan still save its season?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1,383 days.

That’s how long it’s been since Michigan’s epic clash with Florida in 2013 that earned the program its first Final Four appearance since 1993. This spring will be the fourth anniversary of that unforgettable run where the Wolverines made that incredible trip to Atlanta thanks to players like Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch McGary.

Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue, those memories are starting to fade.

After falling on the road to Illinois last night, Michigan dropped to just 11-6 on the season and 1-3 in the Big Ten. And unlike many of Michigan’s previous losses this season, the game wasn’t even competitive. Illinois took control before halftime and never looked back toward a Wolverine team that had no defensive answer all night.

In a lot of ways, it was a reality check.

This wasn’t a loss to a good team.

This wasn’t a nail biter that slipped away in the final seconds.

Michigan went on the road, faced an underwhelming opponent, and got its faced kicked in. There’s no other way to describe that outcome. Illinois had more energy, took advantage of its opportunities, and played to win.

Meanwhile, Michigan allowed a putrid 1.42 points per possession on Wednesday.

How bad is that?

If you duplicated that defensive performance over the course of the entire season, it would be good enough for the No. 173 defense in the nation right now. That’s ranked behind defensive powers like Hawaii, Houston Baptist, and Gardner Webb.

Woof.

And things aren’t going to get easier either. Michigan will follow its game against Illinois with a home matchup against a hot Nebraska squad, a road trip to Wisconsin, and back-to-back home games against Illinois and Indiana.

Oh, and after that?

Michigan follows that stretch with two games against a Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State team sandwiched around a home matchup against arch-rival Ohio State. Michigan went 1-5 against those teams over the last two seasons.

Simply put, this thing could be about to get a whole lot worse.

Maybe that sounds hyperbolic, but Michigan just went through arguably its easiest four-game stretch of Big Ten play and went 1-3. And the opponents and environments are about to get much, much tougher.

Michigan is not only 4-6 against top 100 opponents this season, but it’s also been horrific on the road over the last few seasons. Michigan hasn’t won a road game since February of last season and hasn’t won a road game against a Big Ten team with a winning conference record since February 11, 2014.

Things can always change, but that’s not a rosy picture.

What’s particularly troubling is that if Michigan can’t get back on track during that upcoming stretch, its NCAA at-large hopes likely go up in flames. KenPom already projects Michigan to finish the season at 18-13 and it would get even worse if the team somehow dropped a home game to a team like Nebraska or Illinois.

Such a performance would also mean that Michigan would miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in just three years. Plus, considering that Michigan is projected to lose three of its top seven minute contributors in Zak Irvin (No. 1), Derrick Walton (No. 2), and Mark Donnal (No. 7) this offseason, it doesn’t seem like things are trending up.

The recruiting has also been a major concern. According to the 247Composite, Michigan hasn’t landed a five-star recruit since 2012, the team’s top two commits in 2014 have already transferred, and its 2016 class has been a dud so far.

Barring something unforeseen, the only top 100 recruits on Michigan’s roster heading into next season will be Charles Matthews (transfer), Jordan Poole, and Xavier Simpson. Even if you like all three, it’s pretty concerning when a team’s most talented players enter the fall without having contributed in any significant way for a team. After all, Simpson has played some, but he hasn’t even seen 20 minutes in a single game yet.

In other words, we don’t even know if things are trending up either.

We still need to wait to see how things finish this season, but Michigan’s loss to Illinois on Wednesday night felt like a watershed moment. Although it’s still far too early to call for any changes at the top, it’s time to start wondering where this train is heading.

Fans can’t expect Michigan to compete with programs like Duke, Kentucky, and UCLA on a consistent basis, but Michigan has already dropped games to Iowa, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech this season. There’s no way anybody can reasonably argue Michigan can’t compete consistently with those programs.

Predicting the next few months for Michigan is an impossible task, but it’s time to wonder where things are heading in Ann Arbor. Things clearly aren’t going well and if Michigan is going to get back where it wants to be, the turnaround needs to start now.

After all, those 1,383 days are growing.